by Keith Green  [New Edition 27/7/2010].
There appears to be a great deal of misunderstanding and confusion among commentaries and God’s people concerning the meaning of the phrase “...you are not in the flesh...” (NJKV) in Romans 8:9. Most, correctly believe the phrase refers to Christians, but they ignore or fail to explain, credibly, why a Christian, who is still flesh and blood (with a large part of their sinful fleshly nature still in tact), is referred to by God as NOT.
Yet, the answer is really simple, when God reveals it, and is another example of how God “...calls things that are not as though they were....”(Romans 4:17; NIV). It is also a way of showing how a Christian is already JUSTIFIED in God’s eyes and therefore not sentenced to eternal death because of sin.
Paul’s misunderstood statement
The relevant verse in question is addressed to Christians and found in the Book of Romans:
“But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you.” (Romans 8:9; all scriptural quotations in article, from the NKJV unless otherwise stated).
This statement is then followed in the the next verse by a similar remark in which their bodies are referred to as dead: “And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin;...” (Romans 8:10).
Analyzing the above verses, Paul wrote in effect, when a person becomes a Christian by the receipt of the Holy Spirit, his human existence ends (“But ye are not in the flesh,...the body is dead...”) However, he becomes a spirit being instead (“...but in the Spirit,...”). Therefore, if taken literally these verses make no sense. The reason for this is because in 1Corinthians 15:52 God reveals that all Christians in this age, who He saves, are only changed into spirit beings when they are resurrected at Christ’s second coming – not when they first become a Christian.
The verse in Romans 8:9-10 can be even more perplexing, when one considers that in Philippians 1:23 Paul spoke about himself in regard to still being “...in the flesh...”, which seems to be a direct contradiction. So what did God, who sometimes “...calls those things which do not exist as though they did;...” (Romans 4:17; NKJ), mean when he inspired Paul to write:
“But ye are not in the flesh...” and “...the body is dead...” (ALREADY)
Let’s now examine the previous chapters of the book of Romans in order to establish the context in which the two statements in question were made.
Context is about baptism into Christ
One of the keys to discerning what Paul was saying in Romans 8: 9-10 is to take into consideration that the subject of baptism into Christ by the Holy Spirit and the subsequent death of the old person had previously been mentioned in the sixth chapter of the Book of Romans in a number of verses:
Romans 6:3: “Know yea not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?”
Romans 6:4: “Therefore we are buried with him in baptism into death...”
Romans 6:5: “For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall also be in the likeness of his resurrection...”
Romans 6:7: “For he that is dead is free from sin...”
Romans 6:6: “...Knowing this, that our old man [person] is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed that henceforth we should not serve sin...”
The theme continues in chapter seven
It is also important to consider how that the subject of baptism into Christ, and the death of the old person continues to be expanded upon in chapter seven:
“For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death” (Romans 7:5).
Notice the past tense statement: “…For when we were in the flesh…” which infers that after baptism into Christ we are no longer alive in the flesh.
In other words, when one becomes a Christian the old sinful person is described as no longer alive. At least according to a qualifying statement in Romans 6:11, we are to consider ourselves to be that way already (even though the old self, sinful side of our nature, to varying degrees literally still exists): “Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The same theme extends to chapter eight
In Romans 6 and 7, we have seen that, the death of the old person is the subject being discussed. Accordingly, when it comes to discerning the meaning of Romans 8:9 and Romans 8:10 mentioned at the beginning of this article, it makes sense that these 2 scriptures also refer to the same subject – the death of the old person.
In other words, the statements: “...But ye are not in the flesh...” and “...the body is dead ...” concern the death of the old sinful person of the flesh, which is to be reckoned to have already taken place when one is baptized with the Holy Spirit. This death, which is likened to a crucifixion in Romans 6:6, is also mentioned in the book of Galatians where it is clear that Paul was indeed referring to the death of the sinful physical creation (old person):
“ And those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.’(Gal 5:24-25).
It’s about how a Christian is already considered righteous in God’s eyes
Concerning the two statements in question: “...ye are not in the flesh...” (Romans 8:9) and “...the body is dead...” (Romans 8:10), it is clear that as long as a Christian’s are still alive in the flesh that their old sinful self is not yet actually dead (that will happen when we actually die) – BUT as the following verse shows the old sinful self is to be considered or reckoned as though it was already dead, which is the same way God thinks about the subject:
“Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:11; emphasis mine).
In the above verse God, through Paul, was describing how we should view our sinful fleshly nature once we have been baptized into Christ by the Holy Spirit – as though it were already dead. In other words, in God’s eyes we are JUSTIFIED – without sin, in the sense that we are no longer subject to eternal death because of our sins. By inspiring Paul to write in such a way in Romans 6:11, God is encouraging Christians not to think negatively about themselves as a sinful creation subject to death because of sin, but instead focus positively on the literal new developing sinless spiritual creation (Christ in us) that God calls the New Person, as though they were already a fully developed spirit being, free from sin – already having inherited eternal life.
God is calling things that are not (yet) as though they were
As mentioned previously, in Romans 8:10, God refers to Christians as though they were already a sinless spirit beings (new person). In other words, like so many other occasions in Romans and other places in the Bible, God was employing a principle that, if recognized, enables Christians to comprehend bible verses – BUT make verses hard to comprehend for unconverted people and Christians that are not aware of when God is using the principle.
This principal is first mentioned in Romans 4:17, and is about how God throughout the Bible refers to present things using terminology that from, a human perspective, refers to future things:
“...the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.”(Romans 4:17; NIV).
Without being aware of how God employed this principle in Romans 8:10, the verse becomes confusing or misinterpreted, and is one of the reasons Peter said in 2 Peter 3:16 that some things Paul wrote were hard to understand.
For examples and an extensive study of this principal click here. It appears that he speaks this way in regard to Christians, because as long as they continue to be led by the Holy Spirit the salvation is GUARANTEED to happen, despite the fact that Christians still sin to varying degrees.
God views Christians after baptism as no longer in the flesh
After baptism with the Holy Spirit, God looks upon us very favourably by focussing on the new creation (Christ in us) that we have also become and by overlooking our sinfulness, in the sense of NOT condemning us for its existence.
In other words, as far as eternal death is concerned, he treats us as though sinfulness was no longer present, like we were already spirit beings – “...no longer in the flesh...” Paul, puts it this way in Romans 8:9-10:
“But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you ... And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin;...”
In Ephesians 4:22-27 and Galatians 2:20 this new creation is defined as the developing, sinless, Christlike nature that dwells within Christians.
Note: God overlooks our sinfulness in the sense of not condemning us for it, as long as we continue to be led by His spirit. However, it does not always mean that he will not chasten his children as a loving Father (Hebrews 12:5-9). He also allows Christians to suffer the natural consequences of actions. On other occasions God may allow Christians to be disfellowshipped because of major sins that have become known, and which have serious negative effects on the congregation. (1Corinthians 5:11) However, he always deals with every body in an individual way, like a parent dealing with children ( Hebrews 12: 9,10). With some he may take a more gentle educational approach etc.
Not just past sins covered
Even long after baptism, Paul described Christians as being in an ongoing state of “...not in the flesh...” (Romans 8:9). He also refers to being in the flesh using past tense terminology “we were” in Romans 7:5 “For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death.” x
It is therefore not just a matter of past sins being covered, when we are baptized into Christ, but also an overlooking of future sins that continue to be expressed by our sinful nature. In other words, from Gods perspective, the only creation that matters to him after baptism is the new, sinless, developing spiritual creation – to whom he imputes no sin. When we sin, it not a case of us suddenly becoming a sinful creation again in his eyes.
Rather, God’s favourable way of looking upon us does not change. We remain under his Grace, which involves the continued gift of eternal life. For more detail, refer to article entitled “The 2 Creations within Paul”
Yes, we still need to ask for God’s forgiveness when we sin, however it is never a matter of asking God to forgive us in the sense of restoring again the gift of eternal life. Gods grace is never removed as long as the new person continues to grow and we do not commit the unpardonable sin. (which involves choosing to put Christ to death from within us, as described in Hebrews 6:6).
Some sins hard to budge
Most Christians, if they were honest, would probably agree that a lot or at least some of our sinful dispositions are hard to budge and remain with us until the day we die. However, regarding Christians, God turns lemons into lemonade by using the sinful side of their nature, along with and the accompanying negative consequences, as a means of educating and developing the new creation. Thus, using evil to produce good (Romans 8:28). Eventually, for those that show God in this life that they want to live His way of life, He will LITERALLY remove ALL sin related to our fleshly existence completely, but that comes later as a spirit being.
Paul, mentions how David, in Psalms 32:1-2, further describes the way God positively looks upon Christians, as though they were a sinful creation in the flesh, after they have been baptized into Christ:
“...Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, Saying. Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin...” (Romans 4:6-8).
God’s interest is in the new person
God’s interest is with the new person, who according to the way God looks at things, does not sin. The new person (Christ within us, according to Galatians 2:20) refers to the inner spirit within us that delights in the law of God (Romans 7:22) God calls us a new person as soon as we receive the Holy Spirit.
This new person always fulfill Gods law when ever Christ’s spirit is expressed. I mention again for emphasis, as long as the new person – Christ within us – continues to grow and develop, the old person remains already dead and buried in Gods eyes.
We remain under Gods grace and mercy. We are justified. Our sins are covered as Paul describes in Romans 8:9: “...ye are not in the flesh...” and Romans 8:10: “...the body is dead...” The same concept is repeated in other verses:
Galatians 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me...”
Galatians 5:24 “ And those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”
God’s focus is on the new person. It is important that our focus be the same. By concentrating more on the Christlike spiritual talents and abilities that a Christian possesses, rather than sinful behaviour, greater spiritual growth and development will be achieved.
All of God’s spirit begotten children should find this approach very encouraging.
CAUTION – this understanding should not be confused with the false teaching that we can have faith without works. If Christ is living and growing within us there will always be continued positive works of righteousness that come through faith. We should also always be seeking to fill up more space in our lives with those works.
And of course, even though God is the one who creates righteousness as the master potter and we are only the clay, we still have a part to play, and should always strive to avoid sin by seeking righteousness. We can do this by prayer, meditating about God’s way of life, fasting, avoiding situations that could be tempting, following the lead of the Holy Spirit, and perhaps participating in any programs that we think may help break any wrong habits or addictions.
However, ultimately God is the one who manipulates our lives and engineers the genuine changes according to his time schedule, which often involves him putting us through various experiences during the coarse of our lifetime. Changes do not always happen all at once, and we are fortunate that God is the creator and NOT US. We are simply not clever enough or powerful enough to do the job.
Unfortunately sin will still be part of our make up, even up until we die, but with less room to express itself as we practice more Christ like opposite behaviour, which should always continue to be our endeavour.